More light on Harold Darke – an October celebration

Harold Darke

One hundred years ago, Harold Darke (1888-1976) began his fifty-year stint as Director of Music at St. Michael’s Cornhill, in the City of London.  The church is celebrating this event all through October.  James McVinnie will open with an all-Bach recital in tribute to Darke on Monday 3rd October at 1pm.

On Saturday 15th October afternoon an RCO workshop, directed by Richard Brasier, will study the English Romantic style via the music contained in A Little Organ Book for Hubert Parry (1918), composed as a memorial to the Director of the Royal College of Music where Darke attended as a student and as a professor (and which includes a piece by Darke).

More details and booking for this class.

The third Cornhill Colloquium, The Language of Music, takes place from 10am – 4.30pm on Friday 28th October.  It will discuss the relationship between music and words, with speakers including Radio 3 and Gramophone Awards judge, Caroline Gill; composer and pianist, London College of Music, Professor Francis Pott; The Revd Alice Goodman from Cambridge; Professor Francis O’Gorman from the University of Edinburgh and Dr Simon Jackson from the University of Warwick.  The day will also feature a program of organ music by Harold Darke to be played by the current Director of Music at St Michael’s, Jonathan Rennert.

Download a programme for the Colloquium: colloquium-2016-final

At the end of the month, the Darke plaque will be dedicated during Eucharist on Sunday 30th October 11am.  Finally, the Annual Harold Darke Memorial Recital will be given by Jack Stone, this year’s Harold Darke prize-winner at the Royal College of Music.  It takes place on Monday 31st October at 1pm, and the programme includes music by Bach and, and of course, Darke.

Not all the month’s events are listed here – you can find a full account of this Octoberfest on St Michael’s Cornhill Facebook page.


featured image: Steve Cadman

Easter recitals by Hans Davidsson and Stephen Farr in Oxford

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Hans Davidsson /photo Stephen Kennedy

One of the joys of the annual RCO Easter Course for Diploma level students is the organ recitals given by the distinguished teachers on the course, which are open to the public.  Oxford is the venue for the course this year, and Hans Davidsson, of the Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen, along with Stephen Farr, Director of Music at St Paul’s, Knightsbridge, London, will give two very contrasting recitals.

Hans Davidsson concentrates on Stylus Fantasticus, with music by Bohm, Bruhns, Buxtehude, Scheidemann and Weckmann, on the organ of Christ Church Cathedral this Thursday evening, the 31st March.

Stephen Farr celebrates modern British organ music on the Tickell organ at Keble College on Friday evening, 1st April, including music by Judith Bingham, Sebastian Forbes, Kenneth Leighton, James MacMillan and Judith Weir.

Both recitals start at 8pm and last an hour. Full details of the recital programmes, with biographies and organ specifications, can be downloaded here:

Oxford Easter 2016 recitals programme


Or you can find them in the organ events diary.


Choral Evensong is good for you

by Morwenna Brett

Whether you experience it as a spiritual event or a free concert of the highest quality, the service of Choral Evensong is one of England’s richest traditions, and it comes as no surprise to organists and choral directors that every now and again the mainstream media discover this.

Tom Service wrote in the Guardian of Evensong at Lincoln Cathedral a few years ago: ‘…the mysteries of the responses and rituals of when you’re supposed to stand up and sit down again somewhat escaped me, but the choir’s performance of a Stanford anthem and their sensitive singing of the Psalms were minor musical miracles in the cathedral’s gigantic space.’

More recently in the Gramophone, comedian and actor Alexander Armstrong recalled his days as a chorister: ‘I’m devoted to Choral Evensong. I find the liturgy so beautiful…the sound of a Precentor singing ‘Lighten our darkness we beseech the O Lord’ at that lovely shadowy time of the day, with the sound of distant traffic, where an inner-city cathedral becomes a wonderful sanctum within a busy town or city…’

This month in the Telegraph, John Bingham notes that evenings in Oxbridge colleges are not necessarily given over to drunken hedonism, but that the chapels are reporting ‘… a steady but noticeable increase in attendances at Choral Evensong, as Christians, Muslims and atheists alike seek solace in choral music and the Prayer Book.’

I’m grateful to Ralph Allwood (@ralphallwood) for tweeting a link to a podcast on Rupert Sheldrake’s website Science Set Free: a discussion of the heritage, philosophy, and spiritual benefits of Choral Evensong, between Rupert and psychotherapist Mark Vernon. ‘A lot of people don’t know this extraordinary cultural tradition is happening,’ says Rupert.  ‘But tradition, beauty and idiosyncracy don’t just happen in Harry Potter books. It’s going on in a totally unpretentious way every day.’

ChoralEvensong org Hamstead Nov15
Rev Stephen Tucker, with Dr Guy Hayward and Rupert Sheldrake, creators of, at St John’s Hampstead, London

Rupert was one of the guiding forces behind, a website with a searchable map to find a Choral Evensong near you.  Churches can upload their own details -read more on iRCO here.  (The launch of the website, appropriately on St Cecilia’s Day last year, involved the extraordinary blessing of a laptop in churches and cathedrals across the nation.)

The team behind is looking for volunteers to help it go global.  At the moment the site covers services in the UK and Ireland, but Rupert would like to spread it out over the English-speaking world – the US and Canada for example.

Performing Choral Evensong on a regular basis is beyond the resources of many of us, but many choirs specialise in liturgical performance, and could help mark a special event and bring the glories of this simple, accessible service back to more parishes.  If you are one of these choirs, could you let us know, via the comments box below?

I’m so glad I came! – finding their feet in Bristol

by James Parsons

‘Amazing’ – ‘brilliant’ – ‘such fun’  – ‘I’m so glad I came’  Emily Keeling-Paglia (age 11) texts home from Bristol.

She was on the RCO Academy’s Find Your Feet! and Build Your Skills! in Bristol along with 14 other young musicians who had decided to spend three days of their October half-term last year playing the organ. Eight organs in fact, ranging from three 4-manual leviathans, to a tiny-keyed, single-manual gem of a 1761 Snetzler (so varied are the excellent instruments found in Bristol and Clifton).

Shuffling through colourful piles of fallen leaves along Bristol’s regenerated waterfront, the youngsters converged on the YHA – some local but others from East Anglia, Gloucestershire, London, Oxford and the Isle of Man. Unusually, girls were in a slight majority. All were soon on the bench, keen to play familiar pieces on new instruments. Tutors Brigitte Harris, Christopher Allsop and James Parsons realised from the outset that pianists would soon be ‘Finding their Feet’, and that organists grade four-and-more would rapidly ‘Build their Skills’. FYF Bristol2015 1

Christopher Allsop’s lunchtime recital at St Mary Redcliffe was inspirational – with transcriptions of Finlandia and Shostakovich’s Festival Overture hitting the sweet spot with students and public alike; it set the tone for the youngsters’ own endeavours as they settled companionably into a programme of nine group sessions across the City and up-the-hill in Clifton.

Two distinct levels were served by streaming into discrete yet parallel streams, with pedalling and hymn-playing receiving especial emphasis for both. Bonding was strong from the start: ‘a super bunch, so confident and chatty’ remarked one parent, while another volunteered: ‘she was pleased to meet so many others and now feels less isolated, with a clutch of new friends.’ The leisure excursion to ‘Locked-In-A-Room’ proved a hilarious and mentally-exercising diversion as groups of four pitted their wits against the dastardly Professor Pottenger to crack the padlock codes.

Events culminated in a highly creditable composite concert Church at Christ, which featured all 15 players – effectively projected onto large screen and video-recorded by Bristol and District Organists’ Association. BDOA’s support for RCO Academy knew no bounds, and no words can adequately convey our appreciation.

This residential programme, now offered for the last five years, has over time proved an important staging post: new organists have followed a progressive path with RCO Academy, enrolling for Raise Your Game! and Set Your Sights! days, moving on to The Organ Scholar Experience and forward to RCO diploma accreditation. ‘… greatly looking forward to the day course in London in two weeks’ time’ was heard from one promising young player as he headed home from three ambition-sparking days in Bristol.

photos:  John Miley